Every morning around 4:00 am in the city of Taichung, Taiwan, a frail old man awakes, flips on his light, and slowly shuffles out of his two room bungalow with a handful of colorful paints, ready to begin his day decorating the gray dingy cement walls around him. He slowly crouches down on the wooden stool before him, as he’s done for the past 15 years, and slowly begins painting his colorful murals, turning the drab cement walls into a kaleidoscope of color, where vibrant reds, mingle with robust purples and cool blues.
Huang Yung-fu is alone and in his element, painting colorful cartoon figures and abstract animals, all intermingling into an array of bright colors. He began years ago with a single hand-painted bird on Huang’s bedroom wall. The town has since turned into one of Taiwan’s most visited tourist attractions and has been dubbed the “Rainbow Village”, along with its most famous resident, Huang, known affectionately as “Grandpa Rainbow.”
The saga began back when Huang, a former soldier, was given free housing along with other military veterans in the picturesque village of Nantun. At the time, the city of Taichung had over 1,200 homes designated for military families.
As time went by, many old soldiers either died or moved away. Soon, developers swooped in, buying up the homes only to demolish them for the land beneath them until only a few residents remained, vowing to never leave their homes.
Unfortunately, out of the original 1,200 homes, only 11 remained standing and the government was ready to force the remaining homeowners out. That is, until 84-year old Huang began using his talents as an artist to paint the interior of his home with a huge, colorful mural. When he ran out of wall space inside his home, Huang took his artwork outdoors and soon began painting colorful murals and landscapes everywhere a drab piece of concrete laid.
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Ironically, Huang had no previous experience as a professional artist. Only that his father taught him how to draw when he was about 3 years old.
Nevertheless, his stunning artwork caught the attention of both the cultural elite and the Taiwanese government. Realizing they had something unique, they cancelled any thought of bulldozing or demolishing the remaining homes within the village.
“In 2010, professors and students from Ling Tung and Hungkuang Universities chanced upon the paintings and were struck by their cute and expressive nature,” writes the Ministry of Cultural Heritage. “Student Charles Tsai brought together students and faculty to appeal to the Taichung City Government to preserve this unexpected piece of cultural heritage, leading the ‘Save Rainbow Village’ campaign. As the news spread, Huang himself began to be known as ‘Grandpa Rainbow’.”
Needless to say, the campaign was a success. Today, the village is preserved as an “art park”. Lonely Planet ranked it as one of the “secret marvels of the world”, and Culture Trip put it as the most “Instagramable spot” in Taiwan.
The government, in order to maintain costs for the village, created the Rainbow Cultural and Creative Co., which produces the tourist infrastructure and helps supply the paint to expand and repair the murals.
Incredibly, what started out over 15 years ago as a single hand-painted bird on a bedroom wall, now boasts over a million visitors annually. Tourists love the “Rainbow Village” and its most famous resident artist “Grandpa Rainbow”.